SOCIETY TALK

Eating healthy is not the preserve of mzungus

We should teach children healthy ways from an early age to end the stigma on healthy eating

In Summary

• You shouldn’t have to cook and eat decadent local foods to prove your ethnicity

• Prevalent high blood pressure, diabetes in Mombasa call for rethink on diet

A woman eats healthy
A woman eats healthy
Image: PIXABAY

My nephew just handed me a samosa. I said, “No, thanks. I can’t eat those right now.” He slapped his palm on his face in disbelief. Mostly for two reasons.

My seven-year-old nephew loves samosas more than anything in the world! He could go to a buffet and just have a plate of samosas. He does not care what the fillings are; as long as it is triangular in shape and deep-fried, he’s game. The second reason is his utter disbelief of my firm decision to stay away from fried foods and stick to an eating plan.

On a fateful Sunday evening, my nephew watched me prep a week worth of meals according to the eating plan I am following. The meal plan (I try to avoid the word diet) consists of a high-protein, low-carb meal plans. He watched me silently as I assembled Tupperware after Tupperware laden with bland-looking chicken breast and stir-fried vegetables.

 

Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he asked, “Why aren’t you eating the same foods we eat?” I replied that I was following a healthy eating plan. “But why?” he reiterated. Later on in the night, I heard him recount the story to his mother on the phone, concluding, “She’s eating like mzungu.”

 

The sad part is that since I started healthy eating, it is not just my small nephew who has been gobsmacked about the idea. The worst part is that the adults around me are also put off by the idea. Growing up in Mombasa, we did not really consider healthy eating as a thing. We are the Isle of Spice, after all. Our foods are rich in flavour, condiments and fat.

Vegetables are often cooked in oil and covered with spice to get rid of the ‘leafy taste’. Legumes and fish are poached in thick, coconut sauces. While the meats are served as rich, thick gravies. All these are considered side dishes to be served on a bed of rice. This is how I grew up eating, and there is nothing wrong with it. Over time, as I settled into my middle ages, I discovered that this type of eating does not do well for my body type.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about maintaining a healthy lifestyle in your thirties. I realised for reasons more than one that I needed to be extra vigilant of my health in my thirties. However, living in a community that is closed off to any idea that sounds foreign to them does not make this process easy. The snarky remarks about one’s weight and decision to live a healthier life will be another obstacle to overcome.

I did not realise just how bad our preconceived notions as a society are on healthy eating until I had that exchange with my nephew. For it to be ingrained in a seven-year-old that healthy ways are not the ways of our people and are ‘mzungu’ means we are failing terribly as a society. I shouldn’t have to cook and eat rich, decadent local foods for every meal to prove my ethnicity.

The high rates of high blood pressure and diabetes among seniors in Mombasa are alarming. In fact, I would take a wild guess that in each household, at least one elder suffers from these diseases. Almost every senior in my extended family suffers from a diet-related disease or complications. Yet these same people cannot fathom why I decided to start living a healthy lifestyle.

We need to do better for the sake of the next generation. Eating healthy is not a punishment or a consequence of living a full life; it is a way of life. We owe it to the younger generations to expose them to healthier alternatives from a young age. Food does not determine our culture, our values do.